Impacts of Japanese Occupation in Korea

My grandma still remembers the Japanese colonial rule in Korea from her childhood. After all, it lasted from 1910 to 1945 which ended only around 70 years ago. She often tells me about how she was forced to speak Japanese and the time her brother was almost tricked into joining the Japanese military. These stories were what sparked my interest in how different Korea was back then, because the Korea that I know is an industrialized country, scoring 29th in the 2015 rankings of The Richest Countries In The World, only 2 rankings behind United Kingdom. Through research, I found out that the Japanese occupation had a major impact on Korea’s education, industry, and economy during the Japanese Colonial Rule.

To begin, the Japanese Occupation had a strong influence in Korea’s education. Before Japan’s colonization, Korea’s education system was swiftly improving, as education was a major key in determining which social class you belonged in. In 1907, missionaries ran 508 primary schools and 22 high schools. However, Japan’s colonization destroyed much of this system. By 1917, the number of schools run by missionaries halved and only 34 remained. Outside missionary schools, over 2,250 private schools were in operation before annexation. However, after Japanese colonization, most schools were closed and children were denied the opportunity to learn, leaving 90% of the youth uneducated and illiterate. Furthermore, the Japanese banned the teaching of the Korean language and history, and burned many historical documents. The banishment of Korean language and history had a huge impact on the Korean society, as it hindered Korea from achieving cultural growth. In 1937 the Japanese governor general ordered that all instruction in Korean schools be in Japanese and that students not be allowed to speak Korean either inside or outside of school. It was not until the  defeat of Japan in 1945 that Koreans could freely use their language again. The Japanese government concentrated in centralizing the country to Japan, and employing Koreans for their military efforts. Thus, they banished any learning of the Korean history or culture and forced students at schools often to make war supplies. Korea’s education system was heavily affected by Japanese rule, and it took many years before Korea could be listed in the top 10 of most educated countries in the world.

Furthermore, Korea’s industry and the working people were greatly affected by Japanese occupation. Many Korean farmers were forced off their lands while others had to fulfill grain quotas for Japan’s needs given little pay. Similarly, many workers in different fields lost their jobs, as job opportunities were given to Japanese first. Buildings were taken over for Japanese military and government purposes, and thus many Korean businesses were handed over to Japanese official, forcing many businesses and companies to leave Korean influence. Most, if not all, of the Korean newspaper companies were forced to shut down and were taken over by Japanese, and the only newspapers allowed to be published were ones written in Japanese. Additionally, Koreans were forced to work in Japanese factories and were sent as soldiers to the front. Some Korean women were lied to that they were being given opportunities to work in factories for their families, but were drafted as “Comfort Women” – in effect, sexual slaves, for giving pleasure to Japanese soldiers. Korean soldiers were also tricked. Many of them were deceived into being a kamikaze or were forced into being one, because  kamikazes were suicide soldiers that could do maximum damage. Some Koreans willingly volunteered, as treatment to families of kamikazes was outstanding. The impacts of Japanese colonial rule in the industry of Korea is evident, as many lost jobs and were forced to take up another job.

Finally, Japan exerted a major influence on Korea’s economy. Japan’s initial colonial policy was to increase agricultural production in Korea to meet Japan’s growing need for rice. Japan had begun to build large-scale industries in Korea in the 1930s as part of the empire-wide program of economic self-sufficiency and war preparation. Between 1939 and 1941, the manufacturing sector represented 29 percent of Korea’s total economic production. Although industrial development also took place, partly encouraged by the Japanese colonial state, they were primarily for the purposes of enriching Japan and fighting the wars in China and the Pacific rather than to benefit the Koreans themselves. Such uneven and distorted development left a mixed legacy for the peninsula after the colonial period ended. Inarguably, Japanese rule in Korea left an indelible legacy. The country was relentlessly modernized with new roads, railroads, telegraph lines and new schools. However, Japan dominated the industry with ownership of 83% of rice mills and 93% of food production. Koreans played only a small part in this economic ‘modernization.’ because the companies were owned by the Japanese and were funded by the Japanese. Koreans were used as unskilled, cheap labor.

It is no question that colonization of Korea by Japan had a major impact on Korea’s education, industry, and economy during the colonial rule. The Japanese strived to integrate Koreans into the mainstream of Japanese society, albeit only as an underclass, by providing little or no education, taking land and jobs away, forcing women into Comfort Women and men into soldiers, and controlling Korea’s economic production. The 35 year ruling era left an inexpugnable mark in Korea’s history that will never be forgotten.

Works Cited

“20th CENTURY: Korea as a Colony of Japan, 1910-1945.” 20th CENTURY: Korea as a Colony of Japan, 1910-1945 | Central Themes and Key Points | Asia for Educators | Columbia University. Asia for Educators, Columbia University, 2009. Web. 1 Dec. 2016.

Miller, Linda Karen. “Japanese Colonialism In Korea 1910-1945: A Document-Based Essay Exercise.” JAPANESE COLONIALISM IN KOREA 1910-1945: A DOCUMENT BASED ESSAY EXERCISE. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2016.

Plunge. “Japan’s Colonization of Korea and Its Effect on Korea’s Modernization.” Blog post. Plunge Pontificates., 21 Apr. 2005. Web. 02 Dec. 2016.

“South Korea – Under Japanese Rule.” Korea Under Japanese Rule. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2016.

Park. Japan, Korea, and Colonialism. Japan, Korea, and Colonialism. Stanford University, 07 Aug. 2003. Web. 01 Dec. 2016.


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